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10,000 nurdles collected by Newquay Beachcombing. Credit: Tracey Williams.

The Great Winter Nurdle Hunt

Posted on: 17.02.17 (Last edited) 17 February 2017

Plastic pellets found littering 73% of UK shoreline searched in latest citizen science survey.

Over 600 volunteers around the UK took part in The Great Winter Nurdle Hunt, from the 3-5 February 2017, scouring their local beaches for tiny plastic pellets called nurdles.

The weekend was organised by Fidra’s The Great Nurdle Hunt, in collaboration with Fauna & Flora International, the Environmental Investigation Agency, Greenpeace, The Marine Conservation Society and Surfers Against Sewage, supported by many more local community groups and charities. The data gathered will be fed into the current UK Government microplastics consultation.

The results reveal nurdles littering 73% of locations searched. Nurdles are found on shorelines from Shetland to The Scilly Isles. Not only are beaches affected, but also freshwater riverbanks, with reports from central London and inland Yorkshire. The largest number of nurdles counted was at Widemouth Bay in Cornwall, where a shocking 127,500 were collected on a 100 m stretch of beach.

A pool of nurdles at Tregantle Cove, Cornwall. Credit: Tracey Williams.

A pool of nurdles at Tregantle Cove, Cornwall. Credit: Tracey Williams.

Nurdles are lentil-sized plastic pellets, used as a raw material by manufacturers to make new plastic products. Up to 53 billion pellets are estimated to be lost to the UK environment each year, and spillage of pre-production plastics are thought to be the second largest source of primary microplastics to EU seas.

If accidental spills are not dealt with correctly these pellets can end up in drains, watercourses, and at sea. Once in the marine environment, nurdles can be eaten by animals such and fish and seabirds. Like other microplastics, they can stay trapped in their stomachs and reduce appetite, affecting digestion and growth. Nurdles can also soak up chemical pollutants from their surroundings and release these toxins into animals that eat them or feed near them, causing serious harm.

Madeleine Berg, Projects Officer at Fidra – “We are delighted that so many nurdle hunters braved the winter weather this weekend. The information we’ve gathered will be vital to show the UK government that pellets are found on beaches all around the UK, and, importantly, that so many people care about the issue. Simple precautionary measures can help prevent spillages and ensure nurdles don’t end up in our environment. We are asking the UK government to ensure best practice is in place along the full plastic supply chain, and any further nurdle pollution is stopped.”

Nurdles at Irvine, Firth of Clyde. Credit: Natalie Welden.

Nurdles at Irvine, Firth of Clyde. Credit: Natalie Welden.

The findings will be added to evidence already gathered by The Great Nurdle Hunt, a project aiming to stop further pellet pollution into seas and oceans using a combination of public and industry engagement. Their online nurdle map pinpoints hundreds of locations where pellets have been found across the UK, Europe and further afield. Fidra have been working with the UK plastics industry since 2012 to promote best practice to help end further pellet pollution.

Cover image – 10,000 nurdles collected by Newquay Beachcombing. Credit: Tracey Williams.

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Madeleine Berg

Madeleine Berg is projects officer at Fidra, a charitable organisation based in Scotland that focuses on using scientific principle and best practice to bring about positive environmental change. Madeleine is acting project manager of The Great Nurdle Hunt, Fidra’s longest running project, which uses a combination of corporate and public engagement to raise awareness of the issue of pre-production plastic pellets in the marine environment.

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